Outgoing FCC chairman says that rolling back net neutrality rules will be easier said than done
In a farewell speech as FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler argued that opponents of net neutrality have actually flourished from rules that define broadband as a regulated utility.
“If you really need proof that the Open Internet rule is working, look at how it is being used by its opponents when they operate as edge providers,” Wheeler said during remarks at the Aspen Institute. “When AT&T, in its role as a edge video provider, is assured access to the broadband networks of Comcast and Charter for its competitive cable-like DirecTv Now service, it is proof that the Open Internet rule is working.”
Wheeler, a former telco and cable lobbyist, plans to leave his post at the Federal Communications Commission on Jan. 20, a day before President-election Donald Trump takes the oath of office.
With Republicans now holding a majority in Congress, agency watchdogs believe that the Trump administration will try to overturn net neutrality rules.
The Open Internet Order, which was upheld by a federal appeals court last June, bars internet service providers from blocking or slowing the delivery of internet content to consumers. The measure has won praise and backing from consumer advocacy groups.
Opponents of net neutrality rules have argued that the FCC overstepped its authority. Critics also claim that FCC oversight could discourage internet service providers from investing in infrastructure.
Wheeler said the opposite has actually happened.
Investment has actually increased in wake of net neutrality
Wheeler quoted statistics that AT&T president Randall Stephenson shared a day earlier during a meeting with Trump.
“Yesterday, the CEO of AT&T reportedly told the president-elect that his company has been the country’s leading investor of capital for each of the last five years. This of course includes two years since the adoption of the open internet rules. And the recent report pegged overall investment at $76 billion for 2015, and which is an increase from the year that I arrived at the commission,” Wheeler said.
Similarly, Verizon has taken the surprising step of expanding Fios across Boston. That announcement came six years after declaring it was done with expanding fiber-optic service to new markets.
AT&T has also stepped up its U-Verse fiber service expansion. By last January, the network has passed 500,000 miles. Comcast has also been rolling out gigabit fiber service in Atlanta.
Wheeler warned that if the incoming Republicans Congress meddles with Net Neutrality rules, it could come at a steep price.
A federal appeals court has already ruled that the FCC was within their rights to use Title II to deem broadband as a utility. Wheeler said the true revolution that will be spurred by broadband has yet to happen, and limiting FCC oversight could have adverse consequences for the United States with competing internationally.
Machine learning, autonomous cars and artificial intelligence used in manufacturing suggest some of the innovations that will rely on broadband.
“What is significant about these and so many other next generation applications is that they won’t happen without network connectivity,” Wheeler said. “They all have developed on the assumption that connectivity will be fast, fair and open.”